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4 out of 5
With Infinity Ward out of the picture permanently, Treyarch picks up the torch to deliver us the new Call of Duty release: Call of Duty: Black Ops. Will this next addition to a remarkable franchise live up to what Infinity Ward has given us in the past?
Infinity Ward is the most popular development team when it comes down to the Call of Duty releases, but this is not Treyarch's first attempt in the series - Call of Duty: World at War is probably their most recognizable until now. Although their contributions to the Call of Duty lineup were all impressive in their own ways, Treyarch has never been able to surpass Call of Duty: Modern Warfare I or II (both made by Infinity Ward) - is it their time to shine now? Well, yes and no. Call of Duty: Black Ops does fix many of Modern Warfare 2's shortcomings, but all while adding a few of their own.
The story included in Black Ops is very similar to what you will find in the previous installments, but I honestly felt the voice-acting (mainly Sam Worthington and Gary Oldman) was slightly better and the cinematic cut-scenes between levels (including the torture scenes) brought the story to life like no other Call of Duty game before it. The story is as strong as the other games, giving you an epic and theatrical look into the Call of Duty world. But yet again, the single player is extremely short and relatively easy, and Chriss Anglin's 'Mayor Quimby' (The Simpsons) impersonation - I mean John F. Kennedy impersonation is laughable. And adding Ice Cube to the credits was also a mistake, each time I hear his voice during a multiplayer match it sends a pain down my spine. The artificial intelligence is fairly poor as well - most enemies are highly predictable and fairly easy, and the friendlies are useless to say the least.
Ok, let's get down to it - no one buys Call of Duty for the single player - it's all about the multiplayer these days, and Black Ops is definitely on par with anything we've seen in a while. One major improvement is the class setup - in Modern Warfare you would unlock weapons, weapon attachments, kill-streaks, and perks as you progress. Treyarch has graciously spared us the time and hassle of collecting our favorite perks and attachments by including a monetary system. With this system you earn money and points for each match, kill, and challenge completed - which means you can buy most items immediately instead of waiting for level 40 to unlock a certain item. This is quite possibly the best feature in the Black Ops multiplayer - it allows you to play better from the start. Customization is definitely the key to Black Ops' success and re-playability - not only can you customize your weapons right away with the attachments you want (and can afford), but Black Ops has brought customization to a new level. You can you change the appearance of your online character, but you can also customize your weapon to display your custom emblem - an emblem that can be as simple or complex as you make it. I've seen many interesting and humorous emblems while playing online - many of which would be blocked by the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) if they had their say in the matter.
There is also a "contract" feature where you are able to buy contracts that can give you more money or points to level up just by completing objectives during matches. For instance, if you get a certain amount of kills with a particular weapon within the time allowed - they will give you in-game money and experience points to level up - it's a lot like gambling except with no loan sharks. This feature allows for faster leveling up and lets you prestige much faster. And if you really feel lucky - there is also a "wager" mode where you wager your income on an outcome of a game.
Each multiplayer game seems well balance for the most part - although you will find yourself battling against much higher ranked players from the start - it is easier to go up in the rankings with the option to buy the equipment and perks that you want before leveling up. And for those of you who are higher ranked and are relatively better than most players - you will no longer be awarded for using kill-streaks during online games. With fewer kill-streaks featured in Black Ops - each kill you get with that chopper or attack dogs (yes, I said attack dogs!) will not go towards achieving new kill-streaks. They will go towards your final score, but it's nice not rewarding the good players with more kills.
For the most part, the multiplayer maps are highly enjoyable and very different from other Call of Duty games, but can't compare to previous levels seen in the other titles - mainly because of repetitiveness and bland / boring areas in a lot of the maps. I'm no rookie when it comes to Black Ops online, but I still have a hard time remembering names and pictures of certain levels because a few of them looked and felt so similar. The layout and design of many of the maps do feel slightly better than most of Modern Warfare 2's maps, but at the cost of changing the feel of what makes a Call of Duty map a Call of Duty map. They actually feel more like a Halo map than Call of Duty - causing more frantic running around than tactical thinking. Yes, this does help with the camping problem we have seen a lot of in the Call of Duty titles - but the fact that there is hardly ever just one way to reach a certain spot makes the insanity level go up in each map. One map in-particular will have you cursing your TV and anyone else you are playing with or against - Nuke Town is probably the worst map I have seen in any Call of Duty game to date, and oddly enough it seems to be a fan favorite with the online community. That's why it's a gift from the heavens above that they included a voting option when playing online; now you can vote between two maps before entering the match. Although everyone will still pick Nuke Town in the end - at least they have a cutoff on how many times you can vote and play a certain map in a row.
Black Ops is an amazing game that fixed a lot of the major flaws that came along with Modern Warfare 2 - all while adding an all new set of imperfections. I just hope Activision takes a year or two to regroup instead of mass-producing the Call of Duty franchise to extinction.